Wellington Barracks to the Somme
Now that the Welsh Leg of WG100 has been completed by Headquarter Company, the baton – literally – has been passed to the Prince of Wales’s Company, whose mission is to retrace the Battalion’s early history and to learn from, reflect upon and commemorate the battles and sacrifices of the Welsh Guards during the First World War, as well as to run marathons in the areas where their forebears had fought and died.
The Platoon is carrying with them a sterling silver baton which was commissioned and generously donated by the Welsh Guards Rugby Reunion Club and carries a scroll with the rank, initials and surname of the 50 Welsh Guards who have died on active service since May 1945. The baton was carried by members of the Walk on Wales as they made their way on foot around the 870 miles of Welsh coastline in 61 days to raise money for, and awareness of, both the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal and Combat Stress. The baton is now being handed from Platoon to Platoon and Company to Company as they take part in the various legs of Welsh Guards 100.
Before they set out, military historians led the Company through what their forebears took into battle, how they fought, the medical care provided and the weaponry used, and they even had an original Vickers machine gun to show. It was revealed that the great grandfather of LCpl Lodwick, a current member of the regiment, had been one of the original heroes of the Welsh Guards and had fought at many of the battles of WW1, including the Battle of Loos in September 1915.
The Journey Begins
The Company started their leg of the overseas tours at White city, where the Royal Warrant for the formation of the Welsh Regiment of Foot Guards was signed on 26th February 1915, and then moved on to Wellington Barracks where the Regiment mounted its first King’s Guard on 1 March 1915. After a marathon around Richmond Park, they set off to cycle from London to Southampton, and thence by the Household Division yacht, Gladeye, to Le Havre.
Bikes to Boats
1 Platoon took to the water at Southampton and for some it was their first experience of sailing. Not everyone enjoyed the experience, and the lack of sea legs was a bit of a problem for one or two of the Guardsmen.
After arriving in France, 1 Platoon spent a week tracing the footsteps of the Welsh Guards in their first four battle honours, from their first engagement at Loos to Ginchy, Flers-Courcelette and Morval.
The fifteen-strong group laid wreaths on behalf of 1WG at all of these infamous and bloody battlefields, as well as at the Thiepval memorial where 110 Welsh Guardsmen are listed as missing. The men found it a particularly humbling and sombre experience, standing in the trenches where the Jam Boys fought and died in the 1st World War where, in the Battle of the Somme alone, 55 men of the Allied forces were lost per metre of ground gained.
Some names and stories stood out particularly:
Pte William Williams, Battle of Ginchy, who was seen to dispose of several of the enemy before getting his bayonet lodged in an enemy soldier. He knocked down another with his fists, seized another by the throat, before falling into a shell-hole. More enemy rushed up and Williams did not rise again.
On 9 Sept 1916, Sgt Ashford, Battle of Ginchy, carried Lt Pugh from front line trenches to an aid post, only to return to the trenches to take command of the Prince of Wales’s Company, the Company Commander, Major Bromfield, having been killed valiantly defending against German counter attacks on the village.
LCpl Glover, Battle of Ginchy, was one of the cheeriest and best-hearted fighters that ever lived. He was blown up and sent to an aid station stone deaf. Quickly his hearing returned and he moved back to the Jam Boys as acting Company Sergeant Major.
Ptes Witts, Harvard, Bateman and Perry, Battle of Loos, who together stormed a German trench and captured two German soldiers. However, being only yards from the next enemy trench they spent three days there before they could return to allied lines. The four did not know whether to consider the two German privates their prisoners or their jailers.
The village of Ginchy was held, but at a cost of 205 casualties to 1WG.
Numerous iconic sites were visited, including the Lochnagar Crater where the Battle of the Somme began on 1st July 1916, the 34th Division Welsh Memorial near Memetz Woods and Guards Cemetery Lesboeufs.
Sgt Greenman had the men on their belt buckles at the Serre Trench, Sheffield Memorial Park, as he talked them through ‘going over the top’ on the bloodiest day of World War One.
On 20th July, the Commanding Officer, Regimental Sergeant Major and 1 Platoon were warmly welcomed by the Mayor and people of Ginchy and an Act of Remembrance service was held at the Guards’ Memorial near Ginchy. A wreath was also laid at the French memorial to the Dead in Ginchy itself, after which the Mayor hosted a reception for the Platoon in the village hall.
To finish what had been an inspiring and thought-provoking journey, 1 Platoon, joined by the Commanding Officer and Regimental Sergeant Major, ran the Somme marathon to raise funds for the Welsh Guards Charity and commemorate those men lost in World War One. The route followed that taken by 1WG 100 years ago, from Carnoy to the front line in Ginchy and passed 8 cemeteries and the graves of over 300 Welsh Guardsmen before finishing at the Guards Cemetary, Les Boeufs.
Number One Platoon The Prince of Wales’s Company Cymru Am Byth
With thanks to John Gill for his account of the tour.